In Memoriam: Sydney W. Porter, Jr., CHP

1932-2011

by David J. Allard, CHP

On 23 April 2011, Sydney (Syd) W. Porter, Jr., a charter member of the Health Physics Society (HPS), died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Syd had a serious health condition the past couple of years and was about two months shy of his 79th birthday when he died. I think I speak for all who knew Syd—we’ve lost a great friend, an energetic and talented colleague, and an all-around fun and wonderful character who enriched all the lives he touched. 

Syd was born in Baltimore and graduated from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1954 with a BS degree in physical sciences. In 1953, he was awarded the “blue blazer" as athlete of the year in lacrosse. Syd also liked car racing in his youth. Later, he did graduate work in chemistry and radiochemistry at Johns Hopkins and New York University, respectively. Syd was a past president of the Delaware Valley Society for Radiation Safety (DVSRS) and Baltimore-Washington HPS Chapters, an HPS fellow, and a certified health physicist. While with the Baltimore-Washington Chapter he, along with Mike Terpilak, started the chapter’s American Board of Health Physics exam-preparation study program. It was the first one in the country. Syd was also president of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists, as well as president of the HPS Radon Section, which he helped found. His active career spanned some 54 years, he served on numerous HPS and American Academy of Health Physics committees, and he was also an adjunct professor at Drexel University’s Graduate School of Environmental Sciences.

In 1957, Syd joined the General Dynamics Corporation/Electric Boat company in Groton, Connecticut, as assistant coordinator of health physics. General Dynamics had just completed the construction of the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, and was then (and still is) a major construction and maintenance site for the Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet. Syd then joined the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) in 1963 as the head of the Radiological Safety Department. AFRRI was chartered by Congress in 1961, with a core mission to study the prevention, assessment, and treatment of radiological injuries. Syd was part of the Department of Defense’s reactor inspection team and was awarded the department’s Antarctic Service Medal for his work at the McMurdo Station research center. In 1969, Syd cofounded the Radiation Management Corporation in Philadelphia. When that firm folded in 1974, he formed Porter Consultants. 

We all know about a certain major event in March 1979; however, what many may not know is the major role Syd had in the response. As Met Ed’s health physics consultant, he was one of the first on-site after the Three Mile Island Unit-2 nuclear plant accident. He and his staff worked 12-plus hour days for months assisting the site with recovery efforts and environmental monitoring until 1982.

Perhaps one aspect that drew Syd close to many (for example, Allen Brodsky, Ron Kathren, John Villforth, Joel Lubenau, Paul Frame, and me) was his great interest in the history of x rays and radioactivity. If you’re ever in Philadelphia, stop by the College of Physicians’ Mutter Museum. As you enter, there is a large glass case in a small room to the left. In that case is the piezo-electrometer that Marie and Pierre Curie used in their early investigations of polonium and radium. It was donated to the museum by Marie Curie in 1921. Syd illuminated the significance of the device and helped the museum restore and decontaminate it as a pro bono effort to preserve its history! The museum director, Robert Hicks, recently published an account of the electrometer in the journal Rittenhouse and gave Syd much of the credit for highlighting and restoring this treasured artifact. The photo above of Syd holding Frank Hartman’s electroscope, taken by Joel Lubenau at the DVSRS “Radium in Pennsylvania" symposium in March 2009, really captures his contagious joy for history and the great fun he had that day.

Through the great efforts of Kent Lambert and the DVSRS, Syd was honored by the chapter in June 2010 with the Radiation Safety Meritorious Achievement Award. Kent noted in his remarks that “Syd is an extraordinary health physicist who has been a mentor to many and whose career is characterized by leadership, initiative, and passion for the profession."

A true renaissance man, Syd loved the arts. For some 50 years, he and his family attended the Bethlehem Bach Choir Festival each May. Syd served on the Bach Choir of Bethlehem Board of Directors for many years. I understand the choir performed at his memorial service in mid-June. In addition, he studied art at the Barnes Institute in Philadelphia, collected marine art, and was an avid sailor and scuba diver.

Syd is survived by his loving daughter, Dawn Porter Eringis, her husband John, and their two children. In addition to his daughter, Syd is survived by three siblings: Temple Porter, Geoffrey Porter, and Marti Porter Andrews; their spouses; four nephews; three nieces; and his former wife, Lynn Kony Porter. He is also greatly missed by his beloved companion, Barbara Opper, as well as many close friends. Syd’s third brother, Michael Porter, died in 2009.

Correspondence may be sent to Dawn Porter Eringis and Family, 1118 Club House Rd, Gladwyne, PA 19035 and Barbara Negri Opper, 7004 Meadow Lane, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.

Donations may be made to The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, 440 Heckewelder Place, Bethlehem, PA 18018.


The author wishes to thank the Eringis family, Kent Lambert, Bill Belanger, Joel Lubenau, Maggie Reilly, Frazier Bronson, George Vargo, and many others who provided help with this fond remembrance of Syd.

Fair winds and following seas, and
long may your big jib draw!